Town waits for river to run dry

 

DESPERATE farmers fear the Queensland Government will gut a country town in the state's fruit bowl and kill off hundreds of jobs for the sake of power profits.

Water levels at Boondooma Dam, west of Gympie, are just days away from dropping to 30 per cent as the effects of a failed wet season take hold.

A State Government edict means irrigators along the river south of Mundubbera will have their water supply turned off to protect supplies to the government-owned Tarong Power Station which supplies southeast Queensland with electricity.

But all that could be avoided if the Government simply turned on the tap for the pipeline that connects Tarong Power Station to Wivenhoe Dam, farmers say.

Growers "starring down the barrel of a gun" of no water have begged Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham to turn on the Wivenhoe tap, but he has so far refused because, they say, it could add to power production prices, which would either have to be worn by the State Government or add "a few cents" to power bills.

Irrigators south of Mundubbera will soon have their water completely turned off to protect supplies to the government-owned Tarong Power Station. Picture: Lachie Millard
Irrigators south of Mundubbera will soon have their water completely turned off to protect supplies to the government-owned Tarong Power Station. Picture: Lachie Millard

Irrigators argue there is no threat to power production, and spending $6 million on extra pumping for six months would protect the properties and provide nearly 1000 direct jobs.

However, the Government refused to say yesterday how much the pipeline plan would cost.

Mr Lynham said the dam was purpose-built to provide water to the power station but "the Government understands the importance of Boondooma Dam to the north and south Burnett and how concerned locals are about the water supply".

"While this is a complex situation for irrigators, I am confident that by working together we can develop a resolution in the short and long term," Mr Lynham said.

"I also want to make the point that we remain focused on ensuring that we do not put upwards pressure on energy costs for the community."

Sally Jolly from Smart Berries, which employs hundreds of people during peak season. Picture: Lachie Millard
Sally Jolly from Smart Berries, which employs hundreds of people during peak season. Picture: Lachie Millard

Queensland's biggest blueberry farm, which employs 500 people during peak season, as well as citrus and melon farms and cattle properties employing hundreds more rely on the Boyne River for water.

Boyne River melon grower and Mundubbera backpacker hostel owner Mark Postle said farmers were desperate for water.

He dismissed State Government suggestions farmers simply didn't want to pay for "high priority" water licences that would let them access the remaining third of the dam.

He said when the dam hits 30 per cent, it won't let water into the river where farmers can collect it, meaning growers could only collect the water by truck up at the dam, adding about 3050 trucks a day to local roads.

He said growers were asking for help to survive until the rain came - water now from the dam and then money to build a weir further downstream at Cooranga to drought-proof the critical food area.

Mundubbera Farmer Mark Postle sits where the Boyne River runs through his property at Glenrae North. Picture: Lachie Millard
Mundubbera Farmer Mark Postle sits where the Boyne River runs through his property at Glenrae North. Picture: Lachie Millard

"If you went up to anyone in Brisbane and said 'do you reckon the power station should take a bit of water from Wivenhoe and let the farmers stay alive?', I know what they'd all say," Mr Postle said.

Quebec Citrus grower Troy Emmerton said without water from the dam, fruit would not grow, the plants would die and "then the bank rolls in".

"With the Wivenhoe pipeline, it's a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned," Mr Emmerton, who employs 138 people on his family farm, said. "They can do it. They can fix it with the click of the fingers.

"It's not as if the lights are going to go out."

LNP Member for Callide Colin Boyce said the equation was desperately simple for the town: "no water, no jobs, no money".

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Federal LNP Member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd urged the State Government to immediately turn on the Wivenhoe pipeline to keep jobs alive while assessing the weir project.

Deputy Mayor and Mundubbera division councillor Faye Whelan said the Minister had been taking the town's plight seriously.

Mr Lynham said he had sent senior water officers to Mundubbera.

"I want to assure everyone in Mundubbera that there is no risk to town water supply," Mr Lynham said.

"We are working with all stakeholders, including the irrigators, Stanwell and SunWater to gain a better understanding on the individual water supply circumstances of growers who also access Boondooma."

He said senior water officers met with North Burnett Regional Council and irrigators earlier this month and it was agreed that the department would work through the finer details on a short- term solution.

Quebec Citrus grower Troy Emmerton says the solution is a “no-brainer”.
Quebec Citrus grower Troy Emmerton says the solution is a “no-brainer”.


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